Jalie 2568, Again

I don’t have anything particularly exciting to show off today. I was thwarted, once again, in an attempt to sew a woven garment. I tried making McCall’s 6711, view B, which is a loose fitting tank top with a gathered shoulder detail and back yoke. I did an FBA, but it wasn’t large enough, so the shirt wanted to ride up in the front, which, in combination with the gathering detail at the shoulder, resulted in tons of fabric weirdly pooling on top of my chest. Not attractive. Before I gave up the ghost, I did manage several new-to-me techniques, including French seams, narrow hems, and finishing edges with a bias facing, so at least it was a productive learning experience. I’m also thinking about salvaging some of the fabric from this failed project and using it as a contrast yoke for a Camas Blouse so all is not lost.

Failed McCall's 6711

After a brief period of disappointment, I’m also ready to rally my energies and move forward with trying to make a well-fitting woven garment. I like sewing and wearing knits, but I would also like to make pants and jackets and shirts that in no way resemble a swuit. I kept telling myself that I needed to slowly build up my skills using more simple styles, but now I’m thinking I’d be better off spending more time working to fit one style I know I’ll wear and then developing my construction skills by making it multiple times. With that in mind, I think I’m going to start working on McCall’s 6436 since I have some drapey fabrics on hand that will work nicely in this style. And thanks to the review of this pattern on Cashmerette, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where to start with my pattern adjustments.

Jalie 2568

As a palette cleanser after my failed tank, I finished up a few pairs of underwear. This is the same pattern I’ve been using for awhile now, Jalie 2568, adjusted to include a fully enclosed gusset and finished with fold-over-elastic. I have now completely replaced all of my underwear with handmade stuff, and that feels pretty awesome. They are not the most exciting things I’ve made, but I wear them everyday and they fit exactly the way I want without costing $14 a pair or being made from super flimsy fabrics. (Also, the blue fabric with the black elastic reminds me of Star Trek Science Officer uniforms so I now think of them as my Beverly Crusher undies.)

Jalie 2568, front and back

These pairs are all made with cotton-spandex blends, which is my preferred fabric for underwear. The black and gray stripes were leftover from one of my Tonic Tees and the teal fabric was a half-yard cut from Girl Charlee. The half-yard cuts, which usually run around $3, always get me at least two, but sometimes three, pairs of underwear. I use 5/8” FOE to finish the waistband and legs, and I’ve been buying my elastic from an Etsy seller called Elastic By the Yard. I usually buy the 5 or 10 yard spools—5 yards is enough for two pairs and 10 yards is usually enough to finish five pairs.

Jalie 2568

I keep telling myself that I’m going to cool it on underwear making since I have enough to get me through a laundry cycle, but I have a remnant of charcoal jersey that I think would look awesome finished with some neon green FOE. Perhaps that can be my first project if I end up getting a serger this summer.


My Method for Learning to Sew

I’ve fallen into a bit of a routine or a system for acquiring new sewing skills and sewing confidence. While I’ve sewn a few specific patterns that I’m not likely to repeat a million times over, I’ve been mostly concentrating on picking a particular kind of garment and then sewing it multiple times (and sometimes trying a couple of different patterns) until I get to a place where I’m really happy with what I produce. This isn’t a process that I decided on consciously—I didn’t sit down before I started sewing and map out a specific plan to sew the same thing over and over again. Rather, when I finished a project, I found myself wanting to go back and do it again so I could tweak and refine and improve. The drive to do it all over again might come from wanting to get a cleaner finish, or it might come from wearing the item once or twice and recognizing fit issues I didn’t see before.

My most recent version of Jalie 2568

One of my first ongoing projects was, of course, underwear. I made something like 8 different pairs before I got to a place where I was happy with the construction and the fit of the final product. And from there, I’ve continued to hone my sense of what fabric will work best. Right now, I’ve been sewing a lot of basic t-shirts and pajama pants, refining fit and working on better construction techniques. I’m also still slowly working to fit a basic button-down shirt for myself and planning to try fitting a basic pair of pants in the near future.

The first pair of socks I made when I got serious about knitting (on the left) and, 8 pairs later, the first really excellent pair I made. The pink ones are five years old and still in rotation.

The first pair of socks I made when I got serious about knitting (on the left) and, 8 pairs later, the first really excellent pair I made. The pink ones are five years old and still in rotation.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve basically done the same thing with knitting. My knitting (including not just my range of techniques, but also my knowledge of yarn, and my confidence working with patterns) took a dramatic jump in quality when I started knitting almost nothing but socks back to back. A couple of years later, when I decided to focus my attention on getting a good fit with my sweaters, I spent an entire year knitting sweaters that might have had different design details, but used the same basic construction and allowed for the same shaping methods. And when two of those sweaters didn’t turn out, I ripped them out and started over again. I finessed the fit with each attempt until I’ve reached a point where I not only feel comfortable adapting the fit on a basic, pieced sweater pattern, but feel confident enough to play around with fitting and shaping in other sweater styles. It’s not as though I’ve reached a place where I think I have nothing left to learn or where I think I’m an expert–but I am at a place where I feel confident that I can get a reasonably good result and where I can focus on learning higher-level skills.

My first serious and successful experiment with sweater fit. I wrote more about this project here.

My first serious and successful experiment with sweater fit. I wrote more about this project here.

People have lots of different methods for acquiring new crafting skills. Things that appeal to other people like taking a beginner’s class or the “add a new skill with each project” approach described recently on the Colette blog don’t necessarily appeal to me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would think that what I’m doing is boring. But it’s an approach that fits my personality. I’m a creature of habit, and I like to approach things methodically. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and while I try to keep my perfectionism in check so it doesn’t completely suck the joy out of life, I’m still always on the lookout for ways of doing things better. I also have very simple, minimalist taste in clothing, so it makes sense to me to spend time on getting a good fit and refining techniques. There’s also a very tangible sense of accomplishment that comes from making the same thing over and over again when each repeat just gets better and better.

Several sweaters after my first experiment, I made another basic pullover with an even better fit. More on my Blank Canvas pullover here.

Several sweaters after my first experiment, I made another basic pullover with an even better fit. More on my Blank Canvas pullover here.

It’s been helpful to realize that there is a kind of method to my craft madness and to recognize the positive effects that method has had on my skill level in the past. I spent a good chunk of time at the end of June working on fitting McCalls 6035 but lost momentum when I needed to do a second muslin. The loss of interest was less because I didn’t want to do the second muslin and more because I started thinking: What if I put all this time in and it turns out to be not that great? Or when I would think about working on the muslin, I’d think: Why bother? I’m just going to screw it up. But now that I’ve been reflecting on my process, I feel more at ease. With the fitting I’ve been doing, the chances that I’ll produce a wearable shirt are relatively good. Will it be a great shirt? Probably not. But it will likely motivate me to sew two or three more, and at some point, I’m going to hit on something that is looking pretty damn good.

The way I approach things like knitting and sewing might not make for the most thrilling blog material, but hopefully my attempts to document my trials, errors, and realizations are still useful to someone!

Jalie 2568: Sewing Underwear

Today’s riveting topic: underwear! The six pairs of underwear you see below are the result of the past two weekend’s sewing efforts. Last weekend, I managed to cut out and construct several pairs and this weekend I spent my sewing time applying elastic like it was my job. I still have two more pairs constructed, but they’ll have to wait until I get some thread to match the blue elastic I’m planning to use.

Jalie 2568 via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I absolutely hate shopping for clothes as it is a series of never-ending frustrations at not being able to find clothes that fit me well, that match my style, and that are not made from the worst possible materials. This was my impetus to seriously take up garment sewing—there suddenly came a moment when it seemed easier to me to just make my clothes than to try to find things I liked in stores. While I had been toying with the idea of sewing my own clothes for awhile, it was trying to shop for underwear last year that proved frustrating enough to push me over the edge. There came a moment when I realized that, as a fat woman, my options for buying underwear in an actual brick-and-mortar store were 1) to get the super-thin kind that hit around your ribcage and only come in white or 2) to pay $5-$14 a pair from Lane Bryant, which at the time was featuring a line of underwear that all had spectacularly irritating things like “sassy” written on the butt.

By then, I had already been following the blog So, Zo… and had read her numerous posts about how easy it was to sew underwear, and I figured, it can’t be any fracking harder to make them than it is to try to buy ones that aren’t the very essence of terrible. So I dusted off my sewing machine, dug up a handful of old t-shirts, and dove in. There ultimately came a moment where my old, crappy machine couldn’t manage sewing through two layers of elastic and a layer of fabric, which put my underwear production on hold for a few months. But before that point, I repurposed a lot of t-shirts as I played around with the pattern, tried out some different construction methods, and experimented with elastic in different ways. With this most recent batch of underwear, I’ve finally adjusted the pattern and sewing procedure to yield exactly the fit and finish I want. And that makes this my first tried and true (or TNT) sewing pattern—an important milestone for a sewing noob!

The pattern I’ve been using is Jalie 2568, which has options for either a bikini or hipster style with two different rises, as well as a pattern for stretch-lace boy shorts and a camisole. I picked this pattern primarily because it came in my size, but it also had really positive reviews. I’m really pleased with this pattern—it comes together quickly and it fits me perfectly right out of the envelope. It’s designed for fabrics with some Lycra content and says that your fabric should have 70% 4-way stretch, but I’ve almost always used fabric that has significantly less stretch—for any fabric with less than 50% stretch, I just cut out the next size up. Every pair shown here is the low-rise hipster style. I construct the underwear entirely on a regular sewing machine, using a narrow zig-zag stitch for the seams and a 3-step zig-zag stitch to attach the elastic. While I’ve made the pattern straight from the envelope, following the pattern instructions exactly, with good results, I have made two key changes to the way that I construct my underwear.

1. Using Fold-Over Elastic.

I’ve been using fold-over elastic (or FOE) to finish my underwear because I like the way that it looks, and I like the way that it encloses the raw edge. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Most recently, I ordered a bunch of 5/8” FOE from an Etsy store called Elastic By the Yard. They sell elastic in a ton of different colors with lots of options for getting different yardage amounts–I got a couple of different 5 and 10 yard spools, which are really convenient, and the price ends up being under $.50/yard. A lot of sellers refer to FOE as “baby headband elastic,” which I find obnoxious, but obviously not so much as to prevent me from buying it.

As is, the Jalie pattern recommends using 1” stretch lace around the waist of the underwear, which means that some of the finished height of the rise comes from the height of the elastic. Because FOE doesn’t add any height, I’ve lengthened the waist on my pattern pieces by about 3/4”. The pattern also recommends simply hemming the legs of the hipster style rather than attaching elastic. I did this with most of my early pairs and while it’s comfortable, I can attest that if you wear pants with any kind of stretch content, you will seriously benefit from having elastic around the legs to keep things . . . properly anchored. I use the same elastic at the legs that I use at the waist and apply it using a 2-step method similar to that described in this tutorial from A Very Purple Person. While I cut the waist elastic to be 10-15% smaller than the waist measurement of the pattern pieces, I only cut the elastic for the legs a bit smaller (somewhere between .5” and 1” smaller) than the leg opening. I will say that, once attached, the FOE feels stiffer than the elastic you’re probably used to seeing on RTW underwear, but it feels really comfortable while wearing.

2. Changing the pattern to have a separate, sandwiched gusset.

The Jalie pattern includes 3 pieces—a front, a back, and then a lining piece that you sew together with the bottom part of the front. This means that the (and I apologize in advance for having to use this terrible word) crotch is part of the front pattern piece. You can see the original pattern pieces for the front and the lining, which are both cut on the fold, in the photo below. This method works perfectly well, but it does leave one edge of the lining exposed and the longer front pattern piece makes it tricky to eke a pair of underwear out of a small piece of fabric.

While reading underwear-sewing tutorials, I saw several people using patterns with an entirely separate crotch gusset piece that, when sewn together with the lining, completely encloses the front and back seams. I decided to alter the Jalie pattern to use this construction method—it was really simple and took about 60 seconds to complete. I simply laid the original lining piece over the bottom of the front piece and drew a line across the top of the lining piece—this line becomes the new seam line for the front piece. I then added a 1/4” seam allowance to the bottom of the new seam line on the front piece and the top of the former lining piece.

Jalie 2468 Alterations via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The photo below shows my altered pattern pieces. What was just a lining piece is now the pattern piece for the crotch gusset and lining. When I am cutting out my fabric, I now cut out a front (with the altered pattern piece), a back, and two of the lining/gusset pieces and then construct them as shown in Very Purple Person’s underwear sewing tutorial. This method gives a really satisfying, clean finish to the inside of the underwear. The altered pattern pieces have also made it possible for me to get two pairs of underwear out of 1/2 yard of fabric.

So there you have it—a really long post about making underwear. Underwear seems to be to sewists what dishcloths are to knitters—lots of people swear by their me-mades and lots of other people can’t imagine why you’d bother making something so basic that will see so much use and abuse. I’m firmly in the camp of swearing by my me-mades and have set myself a goal of replacing all of my RTW underwear by the end of the year. So onto the next pair!